Near the Royal Ontario Museum in Toronto’s culture district, there is a haven, 17 stories in the air, for a private collection of paintings, statues, and antiques amassed over the lifetimes of one empty-nested couple. Toronto designer Jeffrey Douglas spent four years completing the new residence, having begun while steel beams were being erected.
The internationally award-winning designer feels that beginning while a condo is still a concrete slab “is certainly the best. You get much more of the bespoke quality when you do that. This is a growing trend in Toronto; people buy an empty suite and work with a designer to finish it.” These clients were so looking forward to their pièce de résistance of an abode that they invested in the building in its early stages, giving them insider access and a hand in the building’s success.
This home begins and ends with its treasured collection. To do the items justice, Douglas surrounded them with “old-world grace and elegance while keeping things modern at the same time.”
“When a client has a really good collection, you position those good things in spots that have peace, solitude. They can occupy that space but create a focal point and drive what happens around them. It’s extremely important to collect good things.”
One of the antiques they’ve owned the longest is a set of Chinese coromandel panels hanging in one of the apartment’s two bedrooms.
To Douglas, “this is a particularly beautiful one.” He took care not to lose any of the action or characters that are part of the story being illustrated on the panels when he decided its position and sketched the room’s custom furniture.
He designed this room’s nightstands in the Biedermeier style, a restrained, semi-classical style developed in Europe between 1815 and 1848, which often adjoins a pale wood and a black wood. The bed’s soft, padded upholstery is covered in leather and wool for richness and durability.
“Always in a bedroom, you want some sort of peace, calm. Very often when I do homes, it’s about balancing a little bit of “his” and “hers” in the master bedroom. Here, we did things differently. We made one bedroom masculine, one feminine.”
Many homes today are a beautiful mashup of time periods and design styles. But if these things are no longer unifying factors, what is? Again and again Douglas described tone, texture, and qualities bordering on emotion as his palate. And within qualities, Douglas sees dimensions.
“You can choose to be soft and light or soft and rich. The two bedrooms have that difference. One is soft and light, the other, with the coromandel panels, is soft and rich.”
Another part of the answer to the riddle “How does a room become unified?” is that too much of one thing is boring. As we toured the other rooms, Douglas pointed out elements that punctuate, surprise, and move the eye around the room, to help the space feel more alive. In every room, there should be variety. And, he warned, the tonal quality from room to room shouldn’t stay the same either.
“Like wines, or like a meal, you would stage different pairings for their flavour and complexity and richness and depth. You would consider how the flavours will marry as you go along, and they’d become increasingly flavourful as you go through the meal. You would not start at the fullest, you would start at the lightest then you would get to the fullest by the end of it. In a way, you treat a home like that. Some areas are richer, some areas are quieter, like a palate.”
Produced and Written by Brett Price Translated by Rui Chen Photography by David Whittaker